I agree with Barbara Davis, who wrote to the RoundTable to express that Erika Storlie “is smart, caring, talented, and steady. She loves Evanston.” All true. I have found that many people who have personal interactions with Erika have positive things to say about her.
If you do not already know Erika, I encourage you to get to know her, and I have suggested to Erika that she find a way to facilitate more interactions with individuals and small groups of residents who have expressed concerns about her appointment.
If my colleagues all vote in public consistent with positions that they took in executive session, as they should and I intend to do, Ms. Storlie will be Evanston’s next City Manager. Everyone who lives here is invested in her being successful and also responsible for defining what “success” means to the community and how we will measure it.
I personally like Erika very much, making this more difficult, but will be voting “No” on her appointment and approval of her contract. Our task was to have a transparent public process and, in consultation with the people we were elected to represent, select the best candidate to implement policies to move Evanston forward.
I do not believe that we did that. Too much emphasis was placed on personal relationships with Erika and not enough on what residents need or the more substantial credentials of other candidates. That is not Ms. Storlie’s fault, and criticism she has faced for accepting a position that has been offered to her is misplaced.
The integrity of this process was the responsibility of your elected representatives.
We failed you.
There are issues here relating to both outcome and process. The outcome is that Ms. Storlie will be Evanston’s next City Manager with both significant contractual and procedural barriers to her removal by a future mayor or City Council.
This Council voted to increase the number of votes required to remove a city manager to 7 from 5, and if the proposed contract is approved, taxpayers would have to pay 20 weeks of severance if a future mayor and Council are dissatisfied with her performance.
There is a policy argument to be made that this is necessary to shield a City Manager from fallout for making tough but necessary decisions. True, but it also shields a City Manager who makes bad decisions, misguided personnel choices, policies etc. from accountability to the public they serve. On balance, I believe it is bad public policy.
From the start of this process in September 2019, it was clear that this was about creating “enough” of a public process to justify this outcome. In May there was an attempt to forgo a public process entirely. When that failed, a process was initiated that included a public forum on a Wednesday and a decision on Thursday despite all published timelines stating that a finalist would be identified “the week of October 12*. *This timeline is subject to change.”
Guess what? It changed, and not in residents’ favor. The process was flawed. Residents who took the time to review applicant qualifications and watch the Wednesday forum rightfully feel that their time was wasted and their input dismissed.
Our City government needs to do better. We are in a time of unprecedented challenges, and we are all in it together.
Hard decisions will need to be made, and transparency and honesty in policymaking should be a given. We cannot afford to waste time on an issue as basic as whether or not we are telling you the truth.
Citizen engagement has to mean more than Council’s meeting behind closed doors, making decisions and sending you the bill.
Although I will be voting “No” on the proposed contract Monday night, I know that Erika Storlie is capable and wish her the best in her new role.
I have high expectations of her and the staff she will choose to work on your behalf. Regardless of if you agree, disagree or are indifferent on this hire, you should have high expectations as well.
Mr. Suffredin is Alderman of the Sixth Ward.